Rio de Janeiro

Miguel Rio Branco, Roman Light, 2018, triptych, ink-jet prints, overall, 31 1⁄2 × 94 1⁄2".

Miguel Rio Branco, Roman Light, 2018, triptych, ink-jet prints, overall, 31 1⁄2 × 94 1⁄2".

Miguel Rio Branco

Silvia Cintra + Box 4

Miguel Rio Branco, Roman Light, 2018, triptych, ink-jet prints, overall, 31 1⁄2 × 94 1⁄2".

Miguel Rio Branco’s recent exhibition “Através do olhar dourado” (Through the Golden Eye) brought together a collection of photographs produced in various times and places. Beyond the way in which he merges photography and painting, color and light, Rio Branco is interested in aberrant visual stories—narratives and images that recodify ideas of beauty and relevance in art. An iconic example is his early work “Maciel,” 1979. In that photographic series, the artist—playing on the line between documentary and fiction—revealed bodies, architecture in ruins, and the everyday life and economy of brothels in the Pelourinho district of Salvador, capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia.

His works contain the din of the world—the city, the body, eroticism, violence. From these ruins and this chaos, however, Rio Branco offers us simplicity, a production free of the voyeuristic thrills of poverty porn, and not precisely an art of protest. If there is an element of protest, it’s secondary, I suspect, to his greater interest, which is to reflect on that which a rigid mechanistic gaze necessarily ignores. His photographs counter the tendency to seek out the exotic and emphasize instead a plastic subtlety, even when the subject portrayed involves isolation, violence, poverty, prostitution, or other dark themes. Displayed as triptychs and polyptychs that the artist refers to as “constructions,” the images are united above all by their sense of movement and the quality of light with which they are imbued. The shapes are indefinite, proffering a phenomenological experience rather than a formal one. In the nine-part Through the Golden Eye (all works 2018), a horse’s hoof juxtaposed with a tree trunk recalled the human body. In the triptych Roman Light, a wall with peeling paint conjured the theme of survival. With an economy of gesture and lyrical precision, the artist displays the smallest particulars, which from there open up to infinite possibilities of interpretation. Despite the lingering sense of latent drama, Rio Branco’s photographs are anti-spectacular; the occurrences they record are simply those that fall before our eyes: fragments of the real, evidence of the world. In one of the six images comprising Voo seco (Dry Flight), a metal post in a desert supports a model airplane, its propeller spinning in the breeze.

Love, hope, disruption, collapse—all are to be found in these works. Corporeality is not immediately present, for when the human body appears, it is seen in shadow and half-light, as provisional and unrecognizable as the fragmented views of landscapes in other images. The artist concerns himself with symbolic and poetic vestiges of the passage of time: peeling walls, aerial images of a salt lake, or the gnarled bark of a tree that looks more like the skin of an animal. We also sense the possible emergence of the absurd. Everything comes undone and crumbles in Rio Branco’s endless sculpting of time.

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.